The Geek's Guide to Conference Going

I’m in beautiful Chicago this week hanging out with a bunch of amazingly creative people at the Story Conference.  While I’m not usually described as a “creative-type”, I love being around the energy of creative people.  I love how they process and view life.  I love how they dream big ideas that would never occur to me.

I’m kind of a geek about attending conferences and learning new things.  I purposefully chose to attend Story this year because I needed a new learning environment.  I wanted to hear from different voices and engage different experiences.

And since we’re in the thick of the fall conference season, I thought I would share with you three things I do to make the most of my conference experience:

1) Plan ahead

I try to learn as much as I can about the conference, the speakers, the city, etc before I get there so that I can jump right in.  I follow the twitter hash tag.  I review any materials I’ve received ahead of time.  I get myself comfortable with what to expect.  By planning ahead I can define the things that will help me accomplish the second thing I do to make the most of my experience:

2) Take in everything

I plan to take in everything I can.  I attend as many sessions as possible.  I try to connect with people during breaks and lunches.  I walk through the vendor booths.  I sort through the swag bag.  You never know what you might catch that is perfectly timed for you and/or your team.  And that’s another good point, be on the lookout for not only what is beneficial to you, but what might be a help or resource to someone else on your team.  Share the love!

3) Study what’s under the surface

The biggest thing that I take away from conferences is not actually the content of the speakers.  It’s not even always the relationships.  The biggest thing that I take away is what I’m observing beneath the surface.

I very studiously take notes in most sessions, but my notes are actually divided into three columns:

1) quotes from the speaker

2) ideas that I’m generating from what the speaker is saying

3) observations about the communicators style and delivery

I have done #1 & #2 for years, but #3 is my latest addition.  As a developing communicator, I’m trying to learn everything I can from different speakers’ communication style, mannerisms, connectivity, etc.

I view conferences as a gift and a luxury; an opportunity to be invested in and to learn from… and so I feel compelled to do everything I can to make the most of the experience.

How about you?

What conferences are you headed to this fall?

What is one thing you do to make the most of the experience?

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  • brewster September 23, 2010  

    Can I copy your notes? Totally agree on your last point. I try to get EVERYTHING I can out of every minute of the conference.

  • Suzie Lind September 24, 2010  

    Jenni, This is really helpful. I'm attending the Idea Camp next week, Catalyst West in the spring and hopefully a writing conference as well. I like your note taking ideas. Enjoy Chicago.

  • Pam September 24, 2010  

    I just left STORY10 as well. I was incredibly blessed by the experience. I wish I had your #3 above before the conference. Great note taking advice. The talks were so full of content I couldn't begin to get down everything I wanted to remember.

    As I prepare to leave the conference, the main thing I wish I'd done differently was to pack lighter! I'm not sure whether my suitcase will be over the weight limit with all the great books and other things I'm bringing home with me!

    Great post!

  • Sherie September 25, 2010  

    Jenni, great to see you at Story. I agree with Pam that I was incredibly blessed by the experience.

    The one other thing I try to do it prepare my heart and check my expectations. The expectations we walk in with will often shape our experience in either a negative or positive way. As I drove in to the conference on Thursday I was really honest with God about where I was at, and that I wanted his agenda and his vision. I wanted to be transformed by the experience, and I have been (I can say that with confidence even hours after the conference).

    I have been attending conferences this year alone because my church plant doesn't have others who are ready to join me. The difficult part of that is I don't have others to process with after the event. The blessing of it is I am forced to interact with others, watch, listen, and step out more. When we go with others we often can be so connected with them that we don't really connect with others.

    Attended Catalyst One Day Seattle last month and hope to go to Catalyst West in the spring. Also am waiting to find out if Verge will hold another missional conference. Right now, those are the only immediate plans but then three months ago I wasn't planning to attend the two conferences I did this month.

  • mandythompson September 27, 2010  

    So great to read this! Wish I'd read it before hopping on that plane wednesday. 🙂
    The conference was frustratingly inspiring for me. Inspiring in the sense that I was exposed to a number of radically creative thinkers, and I heard over and over again that our darkness has to be shared as well as our light. Amen to that.
    But frustrating because… well…. It's one thing to tell a bunch of creative people that it is necessary for them to create and contribute to the church culture at large. Unfortunately, most of us already know that or else we wouldn't be there.

    It's another thing to tell our pastors.